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Football helmets come in youth, varsity, and professional classifications, each designed and sized for the appropriate age and level of play. Have you heard the joking answer to whether or not adults can wear football helmets meant for kids?
Adults can wear youth football helmets. Just not in football games or practices.
In football terms, no, adults cannot wear youth helmets to play organized tackle football. Maybe some use youth helmets for pickup games amongst friends, contests that are not affiliated with any league.
But most organized football leagues have rules specifically for use of helmet classifications.
The main reason adults should not wear kids’ helmets: youth helmets are made from a lighter, less hard, and less expensive plastic; plus, helmets for younger players are designed with more padding around the jaws, which some adults find uncomfortable.
Basically, youth helmets can squeeze the faces of adults pretty hard.
The shift from youth size to adult size happens at age 14. Along with an increased size, adults get a shell made from a harder type of plastic, called (molded) polycarbonate.
So hard, in fact, that football games featuring players wearing a mix of youth football helmets and adult or pro football helmets is forbidden by pretty much every organized league.
Why? The potential for the youth helmets, with the less-hard plastic shells, to be damaged by the harder adult helmets, threatening injuries to those participating.
We have published many articles about football helmets, including a summary of some great youth helmets for football. Key distinctions for youth football helmets include:
- Prior to age 14, youth football players wear helmets with shells made of acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABA, or sometimes ABS), which is lighter and less hard than the polycarbonate used for adult and pro models.
- Lighter in weight. Besides not needing the hardest possible plastic for the shell ~ because of the smaller body sizes and speeds in youth football ~ young players need a helmet as light as possible due to undeveloped neck muscles and the need to maintain stamina on the field.
- Special chin straps, either with additional snap connections, or smaller than helmets designed for adults.
If league rules wouldn’t prohibit adults wearing kids’ helmets in football, technically adults could wear helmets assigned to the youth classification. They all basically use the same size charts.
It should be noted that while the plastic used in youth football helmets is not as hard as those used in helmets for adults, the plastic is plenty hard for protection of the younger players.
It just indicates how very hard football helmets are for adults, and especially in their ability to absorb great energy upon impact. Adult football players just weigh a lot more, with much of it being a lot more muscle, than younger players.
Add all that extra weight with faster speeds, and collisions in high school, college, and professional football are significantly more violent than those in youth games.
Still, results of a study released in 2017 concluded that there are no notable differences in the safety of any of the football helmet classifications. So, between the categories, you’re looking at design elements aimed more for fit and comfort for players of certain ages, as opposed to more advanced features for protection.
You can find additional information from our articles on the top helmets for 10-year-old players.
There are not a lot of differences between helmets in both classifications for adult football players, except that helmets designed with intent for use by high schoolers are almost always less costly. Varsity-level helmets are generally manufactured in a generic way to keep costs low for the amateur players, and the schools that purchase their equipment.
If a helmet is designed specifically for high school play, or for professional play, the product name or marketing copy usually tells you this.
Professional-classification football helmets are generally very expensive, using the most high-quality materials, and incorporating modern high-tech features that require a lot of research and development (R&D), costs that are passed on to the consumer.
In a word, concussions. In recent decades, concussions in American football play have attracted a lot of attention in the media as well as offices of government regulators. Public pressure has resulted in a lot of changes by manufacturers of football helmets.
Football as a game has a lot of concussions due to the sheer physicality between the participants involved. And, because football is so popular, it logs a big proportion of sports-related concussions.
Gridiron league officials and helmet makers have addressed concussions by changing designs and features of helmets; changing rules of the game to better reflect player safety; and enforcing proper techniques in tackling so the head area is avoided more often.
Every youth football helmet should have a stamp from the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (on helmets usually abbreviated in logo form to NOCSAE). This independent, nonprofit organization is dedicated to setting standards for sports equipment. Most youth leagues and schools require football helmets to meet NOCSAE standards.
Question: Are there helmets made specifically for very young football players?
Answer: Yes, among them Riddell Attack and Schutt DNA Recrui.These most definitely should not be worn by adults in competition.
Q.: Are there any stickers on football helmets that indicate which classification it is, like youth, varsity, or professional?
A.: No. There may be other markings, like stamps, on certain models, but not all. Stickers on football helmets can indicate a number of things, from the team logo, to achievement stickers given out in college football for outstanding plays or actions, to a green dot on the rear bottom of NFL players’ helmets to tell the referee who has speakers inside the helmet to communicate with coaches.